It was only five summers ago that recent-resort transplant Julia Vagelatos began selling her handmade leather wares at the Whistler Farmers' Market.
What started as a side project housed in a Whistler garage has since blossomed into a booming online business, The Love Jules Leather Shoe Co., one of Vancouver's more buzzed-about custom shoe companies. Now, thanks to an outpouring of support for a Kickstarter campaign launched last week, Vagelatos and her boyfriend and business partner Josh Blodans can take yet another step in their company's ongoing evolution.
Outgrowing their Whistler confines, the couple made the decision to uproot their burgeoning business to Vancouver in June, and since then, Blodans said, “it's just been one door opening after another.”
But like any successful company, there are growing pains, and as artisan shoemakers producing only one or two pairs a day, the couple quickly realized they couldn't afford to purchase custom rubber soles in the quantities that high-volume suppliers were demanding. So the young entrepreneurs forged their own path.
“To get ahead there were a few options, like go the traditional lending route and approach a bank, but we're so young and poor we don't really have a lot of history as far as the business goes, at least not anything that would appeal to an investor or a lender,” Blodans said. “So it was either we keep doing what we were doing, and keep slogging away and just making due, or do this business the right way, the way we want to do it, but we needed a little bit of money.”
With a promotional video filmed by one of the couple's friends in-hand, Vagelatos and Blodans took to the popular crowdfunding site Kickstarter to raise the $10,000 necessary to start producing their own branded pour-over custom rubber soles. It took them only 20 hours to reach their goal, and as of press time the campaign has attracted over $32,000 in funding.
“We're over the moon surprised,” said Blodans. “We've got a lot of friends and family, people who've been with us since we started this whole thing so we knew there might be enough support to hopefully get there by 30 days … but to have it funded successfully within 24 hours? We're completely taken aback, it's insane.”
With their funding goal met, Blodans and Vagelato no longer have to source pre-fabricated, non-logoed soles manufactured in China that come in only two colours. Handcrafting their own soles completely in-house also means they can start offering soles in women's sizes and can tint the rubber to any Pantone swatch, a level of customization other bespoke shoemakers have yet to achieve, according to Blodans.
“As far as the upper (shoe) goes, the liner, the eyelets, rivets and laces are pretty easy to source, but not when it comes to the sole,” he said. “Now we can basically custom the entire shoe, which is something a little different than anyone else is doing right now. I don't know what this could potentially lead to, but now whatever we can conceive idea-wise, we can make.”
With demand rising for their product and plenty of attention from fashion blogs and major media outlets like Vancouver Magazine, Elle France and Globe and Mail, Blodans doesn't plan to change the hyper-local focus of Love Jules Leather anytime soon.
“We make our product here locally, we interact one-on-one with our customers, we work hand-in-hand to basically create the kicks that they're dreaming about, and that's why we do it,” he said. “We're always going to want to keep it local and I think that's something we're doing a little bit differently. Everyone's trying to go abroad and trying to keep costs as low as possible, and we're going the other direction where we're bringing it back local, making it as custom as possible, and charging what it takes to get all the bills paid at the end of the day and hope it all works out. People seem to appreciate it, and they've been supporting us since Jules made that first pair of shoes.”